Pumpkin Spice Caramels (and common mistakes people make when making caramels)

pumpkin spice caramels recipe with sea salt

Tell me: Are you a good news first or bad news first kinda person?

Trick question.

Today there’s only lots of good news.

Good News #1: I’m giving away my favorite spatulas! More on this below.

Good News #2: By the end of this article I will hopefully dispel any fears you may have about making caramel.

Good News #3: About a month ago I hired a professional graphic and web designer to redesign Fifteen Spatulas…and it’s almost done! I’ve seen the previews and it looks amazing. Every time I see how great the new design looks I start dancing like this:



Only cuter. Though Chandler is pretty adorable here isn’t he? Gosh I miss Friends.

But for now let’s talk about Good News #2, the caramel.

A lot of people think caramel is hard to make. If this is you, don’t worry, I used to feel totally dumbfounded by caramel too. I tried recipe after recipe but something always seemed to get screwed up. Eventually I discovered what I was doing wrong and since then I’ve realized that caramel is actually very easy as long as you follow some rules. Let’s talk about some of the problems with caramel:

Problem #1: When you start the caramel by putting the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a pan, a little OCD person inside of you says “look at how undistributed those ingredients are, stir it, STIR IT!!!!”

Tell that evil voice to shut up and do not stir it. Otherwise, this will be the death of your caramel before you even began, and your caramel will crystallize and get gritty. Even though the ingredients look undistributed, it will all eventually melt into a very homogenous sugar syrup, like this:

how to make soft pumpkin caramels

Problem #2: caramel requires patience + human beings are not patient = burned caramel

When you make caramel, you need to watch it. Caramel is a diva, you see. It’s going to take its sweet time getting brown at all, then when you turn your back to the stove for two seconds to get a spoon, it’s practically on fire (okay, I’m exaggerating a little).  It’s in our nature to look for shortcuts and do things faster but keep the heat at medium and be patient with it.

After the sugar turns clear, it will start to develop a golden honey amber color, like this:

how to make pumpkin caramels

To make these caramels pumpkin-y, heat up some cream, pumpkin puree, butter, and spices in the microwave:

pumpkin spice caramels recipe butter and cream

Give it a good stir and you’ll have a pumpkin cream mixture:

pumpkin soft caramels recipe

Standing back (it will bubble ferociously), add the pumpkin cream to your amber sugar syrup:

Pumpkin spice caramels recipe

And this brings us to…

Problem #3: You don’t have the right tools.

You can follow all the necessary rules for making caramel but if you don’t start with the proper equipment, your journey to caramel will be rough.

  • Use a heavy pan with a thick bottom. If you make your caramel in a super crappy, thin bottomed pan, the bottom layer of your caramel will likely scorch.
  • Use an accurate thermometer. You need to cook this to the soft ball stage, to 248 degrees F. There’s no way you can guess that. Spend $20 and get a thermometer like this if you don’t have one. There are several brands that make some well rated thermometers in the $20 range.
  • Use a good spatula that can scrape the bottom of the pan well. Okay, so you’re probably wondering how can you use a spatula if you’re not supposed to stir? After you’ve fortified the caramel with butter and cream, you can stir the caramel without risking crystallization.

soft pumpkin puree caramels recipe

Which brings me back to Good News #1. I’m pretty sure I’ve found my dream spatula.

I’ve had spatulas snap in half in my hands (no more plastic spatulas for me).

I’ve had spatulas taint my food with unwanted smells and tastes that they’ve absorbed.

And I’ve had ones that were pretty good quality, but I had to hand wash them. I hate handwashing dishes. Stop for a moment and think about this blog, then think about how many dishes you might imagine I do. Yes, it’s a lot.

This dream spatula goes straight in the dishwasher, is heat resistant to 500 degrees F, and has good heft and quality to it…and it’s pretty =)

It’s made by a small family-owned company named Dexas. They sent me some of their tools to try about a month back, and since I loved them so much, I asked if they would do a giveaway for my readers! Update: this giveaway is closed. Congrats to Jenny for winning and thanks to all who entered!

pumpkin puree caramels Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Spice Caramels

Yield: 8x8 pan

Pumpkin Spice Caramels

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/16 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/16 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/16 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • good quality sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan (don't stir it together) and cook over medium heat until amber colored (approximately 10 minutes). Again, don't stir during this process (you risk crystallizing the caramel), just swirl it gently in the pan if you need to move it around a bit.
  3. In the meantime, heat the cream, pumpkin puree, butter, salt, and all the spices together until melted, either in a saucepan or in the microwave.
  4. Once the sugar syrup has turned to an amber color, slowly and carefully pour in the pumpkin cream mixture, being aware that the caramel will bubble up a lot (wear oven mitts if you're concerned).
  5. Return the pan to medium heat and cook for about 15 more minutes until it reaches 248 on a thermometer (the soft ball stage), adding the vanilla extract right before it reaches 248. Pour into the parchment lined dish and refrigerate for a few hours until hard enough to cut into squares, then sprinkle the tops with a little bit of sea salt. Enjoy!

Notes

Recipe note: You can substitute the spices in this recipe with 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice if you have that on hand. Recipe note #2: I've made this both with an electric stove and a gas stove, and as expected, cooking with a gas stove will go much quicker. Be sure to keep your eye on the caramel.

http://www.fifteenspatulas.com/pumpkin-spice-caramels-and-common-mistakes-people-make-when-making-caramels/

Copyright Notice: Fifteen Spatulas images and original content are copyright protected. Please do not publish these materials without prior permission.

Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.

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183 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • avatar wendi bushehry October 14, 2012, 12:03 pm

    My favorite kitchen tool is a toss between a whisk I use for pancake mix and a very sharp knife that cuts tomatoes

    Reply
  • avatar Lydia October 14, 2012, 5:55 pm

    This recipe comes at a great time.

    For some reason I am unable to find KRAFT CARMELS ANYWHERE. Walmart, Krogers, etc.
    I found little carmel balls made by KRAFT. Tried ‘em – hated ‘em. I put them in a cake and they did not melt…. I will make my own and quit looking.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • avatar Jennifer October 14, 2012, 9:14 pm

    so glad I came across this recipe on PIN – can not wait to try it!

    Reply
  • avatar Babs October 15, 2012, 2:12 am

    Wow! These look fabulous. Funny the first time I made caramels they turned out perfectly. I didn’t even know they were supposed to be hard. Next time I made them they were a mess. I’ve never been able to do it again. I kept wondering what was wrong with me. Maybe I’ll try it again with help from your tutorial. Love the idea of Pumpkin Caramels! Thanks!

    Reply
  • avatar Christine October 16, 2012, 8:35 am

    Can the corn syrup be substituted out, perhaps with a light flavored honey or grade A maple syrup? I’m trying to avoid corn products to rule out an intolerance/allergy BUT I Love caramels and I Love pumpkin so these look absolutely dreamy. Thanks for the help.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 16, 2012, 1:35 pm

      Hi Christine, you know, I’ve never tried it. Corn syrup helps prevent crystallization and has a different makeup and consistency than honey and maple syrup. I don’t know how the honey and maple syrup would behave in this recipe, but if you try it, please come back and let us all know how it turns out!

      Reply
    • avatar Liz October 18, 2013, 2:55 pm

      You can try Lyle’s Golden Syrup. It’s also an inverted sugar syrup, but it’s made from cane and/or beet sugar, not corn. It’s more expensive, and has a less neutral (but nice) flavor. Also a good note for folks outside the US where corn syrup is not available. Other liquid sweeteners do not have the same properties as corn syrup and may not lead to the same finished texture. Candy can be finicky.

      Reply
  • avatar Lisa October 18, 2012, 9:30 am

    Hi, these look really good, I’m planning to make them later today. You don’t mention how to store them. Can they be wrapped? How are they stored so they don’t stick together? I am planning to take them to a party Saturday, so I would like a nice presentation. Thank you

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 18, 2012, 10:40 am

      Hi Lisa, If you’d like to wrap them, you can wrap them individually in little pieces of wax or parchment paper, that would be cute! I brought these to a party myself, and I cut them into squares (as shown in the photo) and I laid them all out on a really beautiful cutting board, and sprinkled them with some really pretty quality sea salts. Just make sure that you keep them in the fridge until serving if you’re going to present on a board, because they get a looser shape when they warm up to much (then again, I’m in Florida and it’s still mid 80s here, so if you’re in a cooler place it should be okay). If you wrap them in the little papers, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. I bet you can find some cute candy wrappers at like a Walmart or something too!

      Reply
    • avatar Liz October 18, 2013, 2:57 pm

      Craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann sell Wilton brand candy wrappers that are metallic 4 X 4 squares. I’ve wrapped other caramels in them, and they’re perfect. Wax paper is nice and rustic. Either works well for parties and gift-giving.

      Reply
  • avatar Mary October 20, 2012, 7:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I had never tried to make caramel or any other candy before. It tasted delicious, but will not get hard in the refrigerator. Is this normally a result of cooking it too long, or not long enough after adding the pumpkin?

    Reply
  • avatar Annie October 28, 2012, 3:36 am

    This recipe looks great! But corn syrup doesn’t exist where I live (Italy)… do you know of any reliable substitute? I’ve used golden syrup as a substitute in baking before, and it works decently, but I’m not sure if it will work in this case.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 28, 2012, 3:42 pm

      Hi Annie, how cool! Where in Italy do you live? My husband and I are planning to go to Italy next week. Not 100% sure where we’re going yet, but I think we’ll go down to Venice from Aviano, then to Bologna, Florence, and Rome. We’ll see! Anyway, golden syrup from what I understand is just a sugar syrup that’s been browned a bit, so I don’t think it would be a good substitute sadly :( I honestly don’t know though since I’ve never been able to get my hands on any and see what it can do. You could try the recipe here without the corn syrup, though I’m not sure how it would turn out. Caramels are so finicky :(

      Reply
      • avatar Annie October 28, 2012, 3:45 pm

        Thanks for the reply! I live near Aosta, in Alps of the NW. Have fun in Italy, it’s great here this time of year! Lots of chestnuts, mushrooms, and fresh pressed olive oil. If I manage to track down corn syrup I’ll try this recipe out.

        Reply
        • avatar Joanne Ozug October 28, 2012, 3:48 pm

          Oh cool, right up there in the corner. My husband and I are VERY excited to visit. We are flying into the air base in Aviano and will venture out from there. It may be a little cold but at least the place won’t be overrun with tourists =) Can’t wait to EAT!!!! lol.

          Reply
    • avatar Liz October 18, 2013, 2:59 pm

      Golden syrup is also an inverted sugar syrup but it’s made from cane sugar or beet sugar instead of corn. It SHOULD work similarly, but I’ve never personally tried it, as it’s much more expensive in the US.

      Reply
  • avatar Jessica Moore October 29, 2012, 11:39 pm

    Just wanted you to know that I’ve made several of your dessert recipes (all of which are great). This recipe, though, is by far my favorite :) I’ve already made four batches since you posted it, and everyone that has tried them has raved over them. I even had a request from a very pregnant close friend of mine, for a LATE night delivery because she loved them so much. Anyway, just wanted you to know that I love your site so much! Thanks!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 30, 2012, 8:10 am

      Hi Jessica, I am SO happy you love these caramels so much and that you’ve made them successfully so many times!!! Thanks so much for stopping by to tell me. And LOL about your pregnant friend….I wonder what my pregnancy cravings will be like when I have kids. Probably pretty intense! They’re so bad already lol. Happy cooking!!!

      Reply
  • avatar Meleiana December 4, 2012, 11:10 am

    Hi! I have made these twice now and they are delicious. My first batch burned… the second turned out great. I do have a question about texture though.. Does the pumpkin give it a slightly gritty texture? I didn’t stir it at all and it looks like yours so I was just wanting to make sure that I was doing it right?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 4, 2012, 11:30 am

      Hi Meleiana, I’m so glad you got it right the 2nd time! The pumpkin definitely makes the caramels less smooth than if you don’t include the pumpkin. Same thing when I make pumpkin whipped cream. It’s not as “silky” of a texture if you know what I mean. So yes, that’s normal! It’s hard to strike a balance because you want the flavor of the pumpkin, but the more you add, the more the texture changes. If you wanted a smoother texture in exchange for less pumpkin flavor, you could certainly add less next time. Happy cooking!

      Reply
  • avatar Madilyn Bechtel December 5, 2012, 12:21 am

    How can I tell if my pan is thick enough? I strongly dislike trying recipes and then have them not work because my utensils were not up to par. Is there an obvious way to tell pan thickness and if it will be thick enough for caramel?

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 5, 2012, 9:16 am

      Hi Madilyn, do you know what brand and kind of pot you have? As long as it’s stainless steel and not a thin aluminum one you should be fine. The problem with thin pans is the bottom can burn very easily, so if you haven’t noticed any problems with the bottom burning for sauces or caramels, you should be good.

      Reply
  • avatar Beverly Kendrick December 6, 2012, 10:58 pm

    I don’t use corn syrup. I love pumpkin. Are your recipes gluten free? I have to eat gluten free. i would love to make your sweet potato doughnuts too. Bob’s Red Mill has a potato four bread mix. I haven’t tried it yet. I wonder if it would work.

    Thank you.
    Bev

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 7, 2012, 9:43 am

      Hi Beverly, you can certainly make peanut brittle without corn syrup, the texture might be a little different and the corn syrup helps reduce the chance of crystallization, but as long as you don’t stir (just swirl gently if needed), you should be okay.

      My recipes aren’t all gluten-free. Some happen to work out that way (and have you seen the gluten free section of my recipe index? That might be a good place to start, it’s fairly big).

      I haven’t tried Bob’s Red Mill potato four bread mix…actually I’ve never seen it before! Sounds awesome though. I like Bob’s Red Mill products in general.

      Reply
  • avatar Karen January 11, 2013, 11:47 am

    Canned pumpkin “grit”

    Just baked pumpkin breads with Libby’s pumpkin. Every other bite has a “crunch to it.
    The company says they wash the pumpkins multiple times, and screen the pulp as well but sometimes sand and shell still gets in.

    Have you ever noticed this? Any suggestions?

    LOVE your site!

    Thanks, Karen

    Reply
  • avatar Liz October 18, 2013, 3:04 pm

    Hi, I’m planning to try these tonight for a pumpkin carving party tomorrow. I notice there are comments about the “gritty” pumpkin texture. Have you ever tried putting the pumpkin through a food mill or similar? I don’t have one (I don’t even have a stand mixer!), but just curious as to whether that would help, or if it’s already finer in texture than that. I just made Earl Grey Caramels last weekend and they were a hit and I can’t wait to try these. I love your pictures and clear directions.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 19, 2013, 7:58 am

      Hi Liz, I haven’t, but I’m not sure that would help (if you try it let us know how it goes). I just don’t think pumpkin will ever be as silky as caramel, so it’s bound to change the texture in exchange for pumpkin flavor. Honestly the texture never bothered me though.

      Reply

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